I heard a nudge in my heart to turn around. I was driving home in the middle of the night after a violent storm had swept through the area. After cresting a hill, I’d nearly run into a large branch in the road. I swerved just in time to miss it.
Turn around and move that branch.
Ugh. I did not want to go back. It was after 3 am. I was so tired that the lines in the road swam before my eyes. All I wanted was my pillow.
Then I remembered a story my pastor shared about a time when the Holy Spirit had led him to turn around late one night. He had found an empty car on the side of the road where the driver had been ejected from her seat into the nearby woods. He called 911, and the woman received medical treatment. Maybe I should move that branch.
I turned around. I parked along the roadside near the fallen tree. My heart raced as I ran to lug the branch out of the way. I worried that if anyone passed, they’d hit me because it so dark. My exhaustion level was too high for this type of excitement.
When I drove off, I felt peace for obeying the Holy Spirit’s prompting. In my rear view window, I saw another car driving down the part of the road where I’d just been. It warmed my heart to know the path was clear.
Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (NKJV). I believe God prepared beforehand for me to turn around and move that branch. Honestly, it wasn’t very glamorous, but I obeyed. God desires to use His children for His glory and has individual assignments for each of us. However, too often I miss those opportunities by refusing to listen.
What if I had decided I was too sleepy and kept driving home? Maybe if I hadn’t moved that tree, the person behind me would have gotten into an accident. I’ll never know. I had to be ready to listen to the Holy Spirit, even when it seemed inconvenient.
Psalm 25:14a says, "The Lord confides in those who fear Him” (NIV). The God of the universe shares His secrets with those who fear Him. When He knows that our ears are open to hearing His whispers, His Holy Spirit calls us. We just have to be willing to hear and obey.
I also realized that my heart was softened to hear the Holy Spirit ask me to do something random like turn around in the middle of the night because my pastor had shared a similar story. This enhances my understanding of verses like Psalm 9:1, “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart; I will tell of all Your marvelous works” (NKJV). When God does something good in and through us, we need to boast of what He has done. We share our stories because they give God glory. They also encourage others to be obedient when their times come.
God also reminded me about how well He protects us. Psalm 121:8 says, “The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore" (NKJV). I wondered how many times God had cleared my roads, physical or otherwise, without my knowledge. Some people ask why God doesn't prevent bad things from happening. I suspect He stops way more things than our minds could begin to conceive, we just don't know. By listening to the Holy Spirit, God used me as an instrument for salvation that night. I pray we tune our ears to listen to the Holy Spirit, obey His prompting, and sing His praises to everyone we meet.
The Holy Spirit Reminds Us of Truth
Last time, we examined how the Holy Spirit teaches us truth. Now we will build on that concept by exploring how we soften our hearts to be taught by the Holy Spirit. As a reminder, the verse we are looking at John 14:26 says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (NKJV).
The second half of John 14:26 explains that the Holy Spirit reminds us of what Jesus said. For Him to do this, we must memorize God’s Word. We can’t recall what we haven’t already stored in our hearts. I almost hear the Holy Spirit saying, “Help me, help you.” We must do our part to enable the Holy Spirit to bring to mind God's truth in our lives by hiding God's Word in our hearts.
I heard a story once about a child who prepared to battle a dragon. Sadly, his only weapon was a pencil, and the dragon consumed him. We also fight a great dragon called Satan. While it helps to remember a few verses like John 3:16, if that is our whole spiritual arsenal, we will be eaten alive. I have learned to dig into the Bible to learn many Scriptures that pertain to my personal struggles. I study them so that when the enemy strikes, my weapons are ready.
This past weekend, a family member was hurt very badly. Initially, we had a lot of unknowns. Fear sought to strangle our hearts. The Holy Spirit reminded me of Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (NKJV). God wasn’t done with my sibling yet. He was still in control. God would make a way forward. Because I’d already deposited truth in my heart, it was easily accessible for the Holy Spirit to use to comfort me in my distress.
Ways to Memorize Scripture
One way to memorize Scripture is to read the verse aloud several times. Ten years ago, I tried to memorize Philippians, but got bogged down. Later I started again, and learned it. I studied the verses every night. First, I reviewed the verses I had previously memorized. Then I read the new verse aloud several times and recited it without looking at least five times or until I got it right. It took a whole year, but I finally learned it all.
Other methods of Scripture memory include writing the verse out longhand many times, putting it on sticky notes around the house to read, and finding a Scripture buddy to text verses to daily. A fun way of memorizing verses is through music. In elementary school, one of my children’s Bible study teachers turned a verse into a song that we sang for weeks. I still know that verse today. Music sticks in my brain. If you’ve ever had a song you can’t get out of your head, you know what I mean. Make up your own tune or find a song you love, and sing verses of truth into your heart and mind.
Even if you’ve had trouble before, start anew memorizing God’s Word. Don’t feel like you have to tackle a whole book. Take it one verse at a time. Let it dwell in you richly and renew you day by day. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you know God’s Word. He’ll be glad to assist.
Stir Up the Holy Spirit's Power
May we always seek to unleash the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives as we learn to love God’s Word. Even though the Holy Spirit won’t leave us, we can treat Him as if He wasn’t there. After you put chocolate syrup in milk, it technically is chocolate milk. However, unless you stir the milk, the chocolate lays idle on the bottom of the glass. Moving the chocolate distributes it throughout the milk. I pray we stir up the Holy Spirit daily and invite Him to teach and remind us of truth.
I rejoice to live this side of the cross where every believer gets the indwelling Holy Spirit. Not only does the Holy Spirit live in us, but we also now live without fear of the His departure. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, had to ask God not to take the Holy Spirit from him after he sinned with Bathsheba and killed her husband Uriah. David had seen the Spirit depart from Saul. He didn’t want sin to block his connection to God. Everything changed after the cross. The Spirit remains for good in the believer.
But what does it mean for the Holy Spirit to live inside believers? What role does the Holy Spirit serve? I’m going to take a couple of weeks to examine what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit’s work in Christians, and how we can help maximize His efforts in us.
The Holy Spirit Helps Us
John 14:26 says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (NKJV).
The Greek word for Helper is parakletos (par-ak'-lay-tos), which means called to one’s side for help, comfort, or strength. The Holy Spirit helps comfort us and gives us strength to obey God.
In the verses before John 14:26, Jesus assures His disciples that it’s better for them that He returns to His Father because He will send the Holy Spirit. Jesus allowed Himself to be confined by time and space while in His human body. The Holy Spirit has no such limitations. He is everywhere. We are the temple of God because the Spirit dwells in us. The Holy Spirit helps us understand spiritual things that cannot be discerned by our natural minds.
The Holy Spirit Teaches Us
The first thing John 14:26 tells us is that the Holy Spirit teaches us all things. How does He teach us? Sometimes, we hear the roar of the ocean or feel the mist of a waterfall that remind us of God’s majesty. However, we mainly learn through reading the Word.
I used to get frustrated when I didn’t understand my Bible. It seemed pointless to plod through the pages. I wondered things like, did Jesus literally mean to forgive someone only seventy times seven times? Should I keep a spreadsheet and tally up the times I've forgiven another person? That seemed like a lot of work. Then a friend reminded me to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to show me truth. After praying, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that forgiveness was to be without count. God Himself had set the example and forgiven me many more than four hundred and ninety times. Now I always pray before I study and learn more with the Holy Spirit working as my personal instructor.
When I invite the Holy Spirit to teach me as I read the Bible, many times words leap off the page to address exactly what I need to hear. The Holy Spirit has given me just the right verse to comfort me in hard times. Once I was seeking wisdom about my next job. My contract was about to expire, and I had to find work. Figuring out where God wanted me to go was stressful because I’d applied to several places and didn’t know what I wanted to do.
One morning while doing my devotion, the Holy Spirit highlighted Isaiah 30:21, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” Whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left” (NKJV). The verse encouraged me that when the right job came along, I would know. During one interview, peace filled the room. I felt the Holy Spirit’s assurance that this was where He wanted me. Another job had seemed more interesting, but I chose to obey the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
This time we looked at how the Holy Spirit teaches us Scripture so we can understand God’s Word. Next we will examine how, in addition to praying before we read the Bible, we can prepare the soil of our hearts to best receive the Holy Spirit’s help.
When I surrender what I want, it frees me to receive something better later. One summer, I shopped for a duvet cover for my sister. A friend helped me dig through mounds of linens. A white duvet cover with royal blue tea cups caught my eye. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do. Because I was too lazy to carry it, I shoved it under a stack of sheets until I returned to check out.
Later when I circled back, I saw another lady toting around the thing I’d hidden. I was crushed. Those linens were supposed to be for my sister, yet someone else had them. I turned to my friend near tears, unsure what to do.
“It’s not yours,” she said. I was skeptical, but she reasserted, “It’s not yours. If God had wanted you to have it, she wouldn’t have taken it.”
She started to look through the sheets again. I stood by in shock that God has allowed someone to take what I’d intended to give my sister. Then my friend waived a cream-colored duvet cover with a white trellis design.
I was stunned. Not only was it my sister’s style, but it included the pillowcases and cost less than the other one. God had something better for me, I just had to keep looking. I would have settled, but God wouldn’t let me. The lady taking the other duvet cover was a blessing. It wasn’t what God had saved for me.
Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus [emphasis added] (NKJV).” So, when I don’t get what I think I should, God reminds me it’s not mine. It must not be one of my needs, or He would have provided it. I must surrender my desires to get God’s best. Sometimes, He gives it to me almost immediately, like with the duvet. I had needed it that weekend to give to my sister. Other times I have to wait.
Often, I get impatient, wanting everything right away. It’s hard to wait for God’s timing because it never seems like mine. There have been jobs I thought I deserved and didn’t get, only to get better positions later. Some of my relationships have ended before I was ready, but I realized later they weren’t what I needed. I’ve missed countless buses that I’ve chased, yet still eventually got to where I was headed. You see, those jobs, relationships, and buses—they weren’t mine. I had to wait for the right ones, but they were worth the wait.
Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” God strengthened me when I waited for those jobs, relationships, and buses and saved me from the wrong things. He reminded me that He was in control and would provide my needs. Even when my situation didn’t change, I realized I don’t know what would have happened if I had got what I wanted. Maybe someone would have accosted me on the bus had I caught it. God protects me from myself by providing the right things at the right times.
This assurance helps me when I don’t get what want in my timing, which happens more than I’d prefer. Recently, I went clothes shopping, trying to find the right outfit. I went to several stores and looked online, only to have things disappear hours before I decided to buy them. My disappointment ran deep because I got my heart set on the dress during the hunt. When it didn’t pan out, I got frustrated with God for preventing me from getting what I wanted. God told me it wasn’t mine. Because God has provided for me before, I know He will again. I don’t know what it is. I just have to wait.
Matthew 6:28-30 says, “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
This verse comforted me. God loves me more than grass. He has the right clothes for me, and I will look beautiful in them. God is holding my dress for me. I don’t need it immediately, so I can wait. I choose to walk by faith and not by sight. The God who owns all things will generously provide me with the right thing when I need it. I can only gain when I wait for His provision in His timing.
This week I had the privilege to guest blog for Julie Lavender, who writes a blog "On My Walk with God." She always has great insight into nature, seeing the Creator in the unique things He has made. Julie allowed me to share my posting "Beauty from Ashes." Attached below is a link to her website so you can enjoy the article and her walks with God too! Be blessed!
Beauty from Ashes
To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes … that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 NKJV
God can change even the worst things into beauty.
Seek God first, and you will never be a nobody. Our society focuses on looking out for number one. How can I make my dreams come true? How can I excel and make a name for myself? I would like to say as a Christian I am immune to these longings, but the call of greatness beckons at the back of my mind. No one wants to be a nobody. We want to be known and respected by a wide audience. When we don’t have that, it feels like something is missing.
My favorite Christmas movie is “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Every year I watch this movie to remind myself that even when my life doesn’t go as I planned, it can still have value and meaning. George Bailey never left Bedford Falls, but unknowingly, he enriched the lives of everyone who lived there. His reach extended even further because he saved his brother’s life, who in turn protected others in World War II. We may never know the ripple effect of our lives.
Though I love this movie, it frustrates my friend. She is galled that George never leaves Bedford Falls and none of his dreams come true. He doesn’t get to see the world, but is stuck working in the Savings and Loan. She thinks that he should have been able to go places, earn a good salary, and make a difference. His desires mattered. He shouldn’t have to miss out on his hopes. There must be a way to have personal happiness while also bringing good to the world.
While I understand her angst, this line of reasoning directly opposes what I see in the Bible. Our lives aren’t supposed to be about fulfilling our own dreams and having success as defined by the world. When we strive for these things, even when we get them, they don’t bring the joy and fulfillment we expect. Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (NKJV). When we seek to build God’s kingdom instead of our own, we experience the abundant life and utter joy God desires to give us.
I am so thankful for the times God has forced me to surrender my demands in favor of His plans. Several years ago, I tried to get a job in my favorite town. I felt qualified for the position, and figured God would give me what I wanted. He didn’t. Instead I got a job in a city I’d never lived in and had no idea what to expect. However, that was a much better place for me to live in because it was closer to my sister who was doing missions work. We visited often and deepened our relationship. I also joined a local Bible study, where people encouraged me in my walk with Christ. God knew my needs better than I did.
Mark 8:35 says, “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it” (NKJV). Praise God He convinced me to try something new because I would have missed out on so many good times. I let go of my demands to go where I wanted and gained sweet memories instead. My dreams pale in comparison to what God has planned for me.
Another area where I struggle is wanting to feel like I’m somebody who has left a positive mark on the world. I want recognition for my good work, and can get insecure if I feel like my efforts are unnoticed. However, John 3:30 says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (NKJV). My goals are backwards if I try to make myself big instead of honoring God’s name. God must receive all the glory. Isaiah 42:8 says, “I am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, nor My praise to carved images” (NKJV). God rightfully deserves all the glory. When we live for our own renown, we will never get enough recognition and always be frustrated. It is ok to be a nobody for God if He so calls you to that. George Bailey may have felt like a nobody, but he made a huge impact on the world.
Sometimes, God allows us to be nobodies for a while to humble us and prepare us for what He has next. He has to ensure we can handle success before freeing us to fulfill our destinies. Think about how Joseph sat in prison for years having done nothing wrong. God had to strip him of the pride he had displayed with his brothers before raising him to second-in-command over Egypt. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (NKJV). When we allow God to mold us in the shadows, He ushers us into the light to reflect His glory at the right time.
Focus on being who God has made you to be for His glorify instead of trying to promote yourself. God knows best how to use you for His greatest glory. Philippians 4:12 says, “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (NKJV). When we learn to be content in all circumstances, no matter where God has us, He will get all the glory. God’s glory lasts for eternity. If you want to be somebody with eternal impact, seek God first. In the end, only His Name matters.
I recently published a devotion on Christiandevotions.us. The first part of the devotion is here, and then a link to the website for the rest of the devotion. Thanks for reading.
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NKJV
My heart raced. I didn’t know how to respond.
A friend asked me to watch the movie I Can Only Imagine. I hated the song. Ten years ago, another good friend was brutally murdered. She was young, beautiful, and a solid Christian. They played the song at her funeral.
I decided to watch the movie to work through my lingering pain. I sobbed during the song and relived the hurt of letting go. My good friend’s mother had lost her husband earlier that year and now her only daughter. She encouraged the 600 funeral attendees to get right with God because they never knew when their time would come. My friend’s life honored God, even in her death.
Click here for the rest of the devotion.
Used by permission Christian Devotions Ministeries.
God doesn’t owe us anything. Sometimes I forget this truth. I bemoan my life and don’t understand why I don’t have what everyone else seems to have.
A while ago, a friend and I ran errands to get care package items for the people on her mission trip. She felt loved with acts of service, and I liked quality time, so a trip to Walmart to buy gifts was perfect. I returned to her place to change clothes because I was heading straight to another friend’s wedding that evening.
I complained that it seemed unfair that she got to go on a mission trip and my other friend was getting married. What was I doing with my life? Nothing. I explained to her that even though I tried to obey God, read my Bible, and pray regularly, my life looked nothing like I’d expected. Tears of frustration welled up in my eyes. Why wasn’t I going places or getting married? Didn’t God know I was doing my best? Didn’t God love me?
My friend introduced me to a story from Luke 17. Jesus reminded His disciples that after a servant came in from tending sheep, his master didn’t offer for him to sit and eat first. No, the master expected the servant to make food for the master and rest later. Luke 17:10 says, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (NKJV).
Her illustration rubbed me wrong. I didn’t want to be an unprofitable servant who simply does her duty. I’m not a robot. My friend highlighted that our pride causes us to bristle. We want to feel worthwhile in and of ourselves, when all of our worth and value comes from God, not from our works.
We don’t serve God because of what we get from Him, but because of who He is. God is worthy of more than we could ever give Him. If we approach our relationship with God as a series of transactions, we will lose every time. We can never do enough to earn God’s blessings. It is naïve to even think so, yet we do. The only exchange happened when God sent His Son Jesus to take the punishment for our sins on the cross. Jesus took our sins, and we get His righteousness and eternal life in heaven. That is a much better reward than trying to earn the American dream through bribing God with my works.
Years later, my life still doesn’t look like everyone else’s life. I’ve decided that’s a good thing. If the world is living to serve themselves, my life shouldn’t look like theirs. I live to serve Christ. Over time, God has opened unique doors for me to serve His kingdom that wouldn’t have been available if I’d taken a more traditional road. And that joy I thought would come from having it all, actually came as a byproduct from seeking God first. Obedience is its own reward. Now my goal is to get to heaven one day and hear my lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:23, NKJV).
Our Savior was born for the grave. When He rose that third day, He completed our victory. His life's work done, death was overcome. An infant changed the world for all of time, gave us life sublime.
As we examine Jesus’ birth, the signs point straight to His death. He had the humblest beginning. Luke 2:7 says, “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (NKJV)
In Biblical times, they didn’t have inns in the way we think of them now. The Greek word translated as inn is κατάλυμα (kat-al'-oo-mah) which can also mean lodging or guest room. The eastern cultures of the time prided themselves on their hospitality, so there was no need for formal inns. However, the large influx of people for the census resulted in fewer spaces in relatives’ homes to take in the young couple. Instead, their hosts found room for Mary and Joseph in a cave. In western culture, we think of the animals living in a wooden barn. However, wood was scarce in that region so animals lived in caves.
How appropriate for our Savior to be born in a cave. When he died, they laid his body in another cave and rolled the stone shut. Christ came full circle. Even His modest birth foreshadowed where His life would take Him—back to a cave, crucified for the sins of the world.
It is odd to think of Jesus’ life purpose as His death. Most people aim to be a hard worker or make a name for themselves. Matthew 20:28 says, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (NKJV) Christ sought to serve by surrendering His life to pay the debt our sins demanded, but we could never pay.
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (NKJV) Jesus didn’t die for us when we were His supportive friends. He sacrificed Himself even though we were His enemies. It boggles my mind.
Death on the cross was such painful physical death, they created a word to describe the agony of dying on the cross – excruciating. Yet, it wasn’t just the physical pain, but the spiritual separation from His Father as the entire cup of God’s wrath was emptied on Christ. All sins ever committed by mankind, past, present, and future, were paid on that cross.
Jesus was born for the cross. He bled and died and suffered loss. Philippians 2:7-8 says Christ, “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (NKJV) Jesus walked, talked, hungered and tired, just like we do. He came so He could relate to us; so we can obtain mercy in our times of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16) He demonstrated sacrificial love, leaving a gilded throne for a dirt floor to die for His enemies.
Not only is Jesus’ birth the reason for the season, but His death gives us life. He reconciled us to God so that we can live eternally with Him. Jesus didn’t stay in the grave, but rose the third day. As we leave the Christmas season and enter the New Year, we go as new creations. Romans 6:4b says, “Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (NKJV) I pray that in 2019 we walk in our new lives that Christ won through His death.
What is your life purpose?
How can you serve others in 2019?
To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes … that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 NKJV
God can change even the worst things into beauty.
When I visited Iceland, my tour guide drove the group by the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010. He explained the hardships the farmers endured trying to salvage their crops, which were covered by ash. The sheep usually roamed the hills, but had to remain indoors so they wouldn’t inhale the smoke. Iceland had suffered during the economic crisis in 2008 and hadn’t recovered by 2010. The immediate repercussions seemed insurmountable.
For those who survived the initial turmoil, the volcano brought good in the long run. By blanketing the ground, the ash made it fertile. Also, the locals believe the volcano put Iceland on the map. Tourism skyrocketed.
God turned something as tragic as a volcanic eruption into something good for Iceland. Those ashes were recreated into beauty.
God does the same in our lives. Sometimes our dreams seem to go up in smoke as we struggle. We suffer loss we don’t understand. But God doesn’t waste our pain. He transforms it into something more glorious than its original state. He builds spiritual endurance in us during the dark times that He can use for His purposes in the good times. Often, no other way exists to obtain that strength other than by going through the fire.
If you have had your dreams explode and your life turned into ashes, ask God how He wants to use these times for His glory. He has plans to use the darkness as a backdrop to better display the light of His kingdom’s work.
Ask the Lord to bring beauty from the ashes of your life.
Used by permission Christian Devotions Ministries.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.